Local church has world-wide reach

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Zion Separate Baptist Church serving church on Ivory Coast

By Calen McKinney


It started small, with the congregation's children marching around carrying buckets while the adults sang hymns, hoping to fill them with coins and maybe a few dollar bills.

They had learned about the tiny grass hut that served as a church for the village of Nassian on the Ivory Coast, and they wanted to raise money to provide the church with a floor.

Six years later, Zion Separate Baptist Church in Taylor County now serves as primary sponsor for the construction of a new church in Nassian.

"The credit goes to the young ones of our church; they got this in their hearts to do this," member Gail Price said.

With an average weekly attendance of 70, raising money for a new floor would be a reasonable goal. But after that initial collection, several of the church's members felt led to do more for the people of Nassian.

Church secretary Cozetta Sprowles said her husband, Olyn, who is a church deacon, had a divine experience where he felt the presence of God sitting beside him while driving his truck. He said his heart was immediately filled with concern for missions. He told her that missionaries give up everything to go live in poor conditions to do the Lord's work.

"Here we are in the land of luxury and we can surely give money to help support this work to win people for the lord," he told her.

According to Price, Islam and worship of ancestors are widespread in Nassian.

"We were all like, 'We can do this, it requires so little of us to help them to hear the gospel, to be saved,' and that's our goal, of course," Sprowles said.

The church takes up a mission fund offering the first Sunday of every month. Part of it is used for home missions and the rest goes toward foreign ones.

Price said the church doesn't organize fundraisers for the mission fund, instead members give when they feel it in their heart to donate.

Bro. Jerry Ridge, a missionary with Separate Baptist Missions Inc., frequently travels to Nassian and keeps members of the church updated on the progress with pictures of the people working and videos of the children singing.

"And they sing beautifully," Sprowles said. "You can't understand the words, but you can understand the melody."

Ridge, who lives in Albany, has served as a missionary in Nassian since 1995 and has made about 50 trips there.

While the present church hut can only hold about 30 people, Ridge said there is a powerful vision for spiritual growth to occur in Nassian. When the church is complete, he said it will hold 300 people.

"They've been so faithful to the people of Nassian," Ridge said of the church's support.

The saving and planning started long before construction began. Ridge said the missionaries first had to get permission from the village chief and elders. Then came the lengthy but necessary process of getting a deed to the four acres of land. He said the village elders had to work a long time to get this accomplished.

"Africa is kind of unique in that they don't do things quickly," Ridge said. "If you go to try to get some papers notarized or something, it might take six weeks."

The workers also had to get government permission to get the wood needed to build the trusses.

"They don't just let them go out and cut trees down in Africa, there's a lot of bureaucracy there," Ridge said.

Sprowles said it was also important that enough money was saved before the construction began as all materials are purchased only after the money is received. A local mason who oversees the construction is paid, but all of the other workers are volunteers.

Ridge said the support of Zion Separate Baptist Church has brought the dream of building a church to life.

"The people there give some money from selling their crops and their tithes, but that money doesn't go far," Ridge said. "What would take them 20 years, we're going to accomplish in two or three."

According to Ridge, Nassian is special in that there is an intermediate school for 13- to 17-year-olds. Many African villages have no schools. During the school year, he said, students come from surrounding villages and stay with Christian families. He said the students work very hard to help with the construction.

"We're making a lot of progress now," Ridge said.

He said ornately decorated blocks with holes will be used in place of windows.

"A person couldn't get through, but air can," Ridge said. "Because it stays so warm year round, they like to keep everything open all the time so that air can come through."

He said the Nassian people make their own stucco blocks out of cement, water and sand. Workers fill pans with water from a cistern that serves as the baptistery and carry them back to the worksite on their heads to make the blocks.

Ridge said they still need to buy doors and pour the floor. Because there is electricity in some areas of Nissian, the church will be wired for electricity in hopes that it will be available in the future.

In addition to the construction project, the church has supported other mission work in Nassian. They helped purchase a four-wheel-drive truck for Ridge who must travel a long distance on rough, dirt roads to get from the main city of Abidjan to Nassian. A portion of the church's donations has also been used to translate the Bible into Culongo, the native language of the Nassian people.

Price said she believes helping lead people to God as well as the gratification of getting to see a dream come to life are why the church's mission fund has continued to grow.

And while it's more than 5,000 miles away, some similarities can be drawn between the people of Nassian and Zion Separate Baptist Church.

"With God, even a small church can do great things," Price said.